“I always wanted to be a father, until I had kids. Then I realized I always wanted to be an uncle.”
On Monday, January 9th, 2011, I saw my first ultrasound. Not just my first ultrasound, the heartbeat of my very own first baby-to-be. Said heartbeat was a little white mass, floating inside a gray mass, floating inside a black mass, throbbing furiously on a screen. Though the ultrasound tech pointed out a supposed head and limb, I couldn’t make out anything but a blob. But the white, pulsating mass eclipsed all else; that was distinguishable to an eye of any caliber.
Since that day, I have been fielding texts and emails alternately telling me how excited I must be and asking how I feel. Which I appreciate; the support of friends has been overwhelming and wonderful. The thing is, I’m somewhat emotionally neutral at the moment.
In his book Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood, author Michael Lewis discussed something I talk about on stage in my act: the idea there is no such thing as “paternal instinct.” It is easier for a woman to have an immediate connection to a baby, because it is literally a part of them. The child has gestated within their body, creating sensations no male could ever fully understand. Men, on the other hand, have to form a bond with the child, and that union can take months to develop.
Watching my future child’s heartbeat had one thought flash across my mind—“What will you be, little pea?” It was an all encompassing query as to whether it would be a boy or girl, colicky or quiet, athletic or musical, and every other question under the sun regarding impending parenthood.
After that instant? Well, it’s not that I felt nothing, it’s that seeing the heartbeat wasn’t an abrupt, life-altering event. I didn’t feel the need to suddenly paint ducks on a bedroom wall, research high-chair safety ratings on the interwebs, or call everyone I knew and shout joy at them. I had a neat little moment that made me smile, and then went on with my day.
I don’t believe I’m in denial about anything, nor do I think I am being emotionally distant. I know the critter is on its way, that preparations will be made and that my life is going to come to an end change, it’s just that there is vast difference between knowing and feeling. I understand change is afoot; I feel like I always have for the most part. And therein lies the rub. You see, this is nothing I ever wanted; fatherhood was something agreed to grudgingly in this relationship. I half-jokingly say we arrived to this point through lies and manipulation by Lydia, but she doesn’t call what happened lying, she states, “My feelings changed.”
When we started dating, there eventually came that point where conversation became a little more serious and we examined how devoted to the relationship we were going to be. The issue of children came up, and I stated my absolute disinterest in the little parasites. Fortunately, Lydia agreed: kids were not on her agenda.
But when we got to that next stage of the relationship, where we had invested in one another and deep roots had anchored, something had shifted. As we spoke again about the future—the probability of wearing rings upon fingers and spending a lifetime together—a child became what is known as a deal breaker. She wanted one, and it was non-negotiable. So what had changed?
Lydia said that when we met, she had never been in a stable relationship, and therefore never found herself in a situation where she’d want to raise a family. It is against all logic and just dumb fucking luck that somehow I opened her eyes to the joys of solid emotional footing and an arena a baby would make sense in.
(To quote Archer: Hooray)
By this point I was in over my head, and my choices were: attempt to find someone as perfect for me as Lydia (not gonna happen), or ignore every bit of reason and logic life offers and actually have a child.
There were, to a point, negotiations: Lydia wanted two kids, I wanted zero. We “compromised” on one. Which in essence means she won. While one is less than two, when it comes to babies one is a billion more than zero.
I’ve never understood the appeal of giving up everything you live for in order to cater to the whims of something that in the beginning only exists to cry and poop, and then later wants to wreck your car and spend your money. But, since it’s happening, it’s time to man up.
I’m not entirely dickish regarding the situation; care does reside somewhere within me. I know this because I am suddenly having irrationally silly and stupid thoughts rattle around my noggin. For example: Lydia and I went to the gym, and suddenly an idiotic-as-fuck paranoia kicked in: I didn’t want her doing any sit-ups and smooshing Peanut—the name my Mrs. gave the life-form growing in her belly—in the process. Again, it is the difference between knowing and feeling; intellectually I am sound of mind and know a sit-up isn’t going to cause a miscarriage. Emotionally, I was suddenly as irrational as a member of the Teabag Party, my saving grace being I was at least aware I was being stupid.
On the other side of the involvement spectrum is Lydia, who is joyfully approaching being pregnant to the point of obsession. She has hilariously taken her perfectionist nature and applied it directly to her condition, constantly checking websites for what she is supposed to feel or do at any moment. And yes, now that she has an iPhone, she has discovered “There’s an app for that.” So, if there is a symptom of pregnancy, Lydia wants to make sure she is experiencing it. While at the hospital, a nurse casually mentioned Lydia might be more thirsty than normal, to which Lydia immediately responded, “You know, I have been thirstier lately; may I have some water?” Before that instant, she had never mentioned being parched; the nurse made it OK for her to feel that way.
Where our emotional paths converge is in crossed fingers. Given what it took to get to this point, another setback would be frustrating beyond words. Two years of failed infertility treatments, an expensive first round of in vitro implantation that didn’t take, low HGC numbers for the first few tests and a nurse who casually emailed, “This one probably won’t take” on this implant… we’re ready to stop walking on eggshells and move forward full force. We cross our fingers and hope Peanut continues to be compared to ever-growing sizes of fruit: apple seed, pea, blueberry, raspberry, grape, orange, grapefruit, and so on.
(I’m not sure why a fetus is size-compared to food, much less fruit; maybe it’s because both grow from seeds and there’s a food/belly relation to where the baby looks like it’s growing)
We’re pretty much monitoring the present, and keeping a cautious eye on the future. If all continues to go well, we will have a child, one that will need to be named. So far, only one foundation has been laid: if it is a boy, the middle name will be Baxter. That one I put my foot down on, because it was important to me.
Baxter isn’t a family name; there is no family tradition involving a “Baxter” in my genealogy. No, it is the last name of a good friend, one who was an usher at my wedding. He is overweight, has gout, loves porn, has more tattoos on his body than sexual partners in his past (his words; and one of those sexual partners was a prostitute I near-forced him to buy), and a man who has shit his pants far more as an adult than he ever did when in diapers. To counter Lydia’s deal breaker of actually having a baby, giving my son the middle name “Baxter” was my Great Wall of China. If I am to get any joy out of being a father, it will be the day I look my son square in the eyes and explain to him he is named, in part, after his fat, retarded, pants-shitting uncle. Because in life, it is the little things that make you smile.
(If we have a girl, Lydia gets to crown it whatever she wants; I have two responses to her name offerings: “Eh, that’s fine,” or “Jesus Tim-Tebow Christ no.”)
But that’s all in the future, because right now there are only questions.
Or, in reality, one question: What will you be, little pea?